Is It OK to Stage-Assassinate Katie Hopkins?
A musical imagining the politically motivated murder of Katie Hopkins, a British right-wing polemicist, examines how we deal with free speech and violence in the social media era.
MOLD, Wales—Though the playwright doth protest, there is an unmistakable glee that permeates a new musical stage production featuring the brutal murder of right-wing controversialist Katie Hopkins.
If you are not familiar with her work, Hopkins is a British iteration of Ann Coulter who started out as a brash contestant on the U.K.’s non-celebrity version of The Apprentice, hosted by Alan (Lord) Sugar.
In the opening scenes of The Assassination of Katie Hopkins by Theatr Clwyd we learn that she has been gunned down outside the British Media Awards. We don’t see the murder on stage—instead we discover what went down gradually via the fractured and sometimes contradictory prism of social media.
“Have you seen this?”
“Fake! Don’t believe a word of it.”
“Why is Katie Hopkins trending?“
“What has Katie Hopkins done this time?”
The “beep-beep” soundtrack of updates landing on a hundred distant phones—which had begun quietly as members of the audience took their seats—gathers pace and intensity until it’s replaced by the long, chilling “beeeeeeep” of a flatlining life-support machine.
Immediately we are plunged into the world’s reaction to her slaying. A message appears on one of two brilliantly conceived sliding digital walls—constructed from iPhone-sized screens—to say that this is an oral history and claim that no words have been changed from the aftermath of the events of June 2018.
“Splat, pow, gone—crazy!”
“It’s like Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express—because there are so many people wanted her dead.”
“Ding dong the bitch is dead!”
It just goes to show, says one character, “There are outcomes, ramifications—I’m not saying she deserved it.”
That’s a recurring theme. People explaining that they’re not saying she deserved it, but…
Hopkins used her knack for provocation to secure columns in The Sun, then Mail Online and a British radio show, but those opportunities disappeared as her invective became increasingly extreme.
In 2015, after the publication of heart-rending photographs of migrants who drowned while fleeing Syria, she wrote a column describing the refugees as “cockroaches” under the headline: “Rescue Boats? I’d Use Gunships to Stop Migrants.”
“I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad,” she wrote. “I still don’t care.”
These callous remarks and countless more—whether they are part of pro-Trump screeds or claims to Fox News that Britain is being overrun with Islamists—have been widely rejected by many Brits, and her influence has waned as she lost her high-profile columns and stopped making regular national TV appearances.
Nevertheless Hopkins remains a favorite target of the Left, and seats have been selling fast for this production in North Wales. Some of the audience were still shocked by how far the show went, however.
“I expected it to be a verbal ‘assassination’ not an actual death—perhaps that would have been a better road to go down,” said Caryl Kennelly. “Jo Cox did spring to mind more than once."
Cox, an anti-Brexit Labour politician, was shot dead in the street by a right-wing activist in June 2016 in the first British political assassination in a generation. She was 41.
Two would-be jihadis were jailed on terrorism offenses late last year—Katie Hopkins was among their proposed targets.
The Theatr Clwyd musical is far from the first work of fiction to controversially imagine the assassinations of public figures. The acclaimed author Hilary Mantel garnered criticism for her short story imagining the assassination of Margaret Thatcher.
Last summer, New York City's Public Theater faced right-wing protests over a production of Julius Caesar whose title (assassinated) character looked like Donald Trump. The recent FX series, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, is rooted in graphic reality, but was also an audaciously stylized journey into the mind of Versace's killer, Andrew Cunanan.
Hopkins has refused to say anything about the Theatr Clywd musical, and she declined to answer questions from The Daily Beast, but acolytes sent an advertising truck to the town of Mold asking whether it would be acceptable to stage a musical about the assassination of London’s mayor Sadiq Khan or another female Labour politician.
The playwright Chris Bush explained before opening night that she took “no pleasure in imagining [Hopkins’] death.”
“So, what is The Assassination of Katie Hopkins? A sick, leftist fantasy? An act of professional trolling? A criminal offense?” she wrote in an article for the i newspaper. “I sincerely believe it isn’t any of these things.”
The show sets out to explore 21st century efforts to grapple with social media provocateurs—like Paul Joseph Watson, Kanye West or Coulter—and their equally aggressive detractors. After a fast-paced and inventive start the musical loses its way as it tries to take on too many ideas at once—the second half in particular should be tightened.
Of course, we are not supposed to be cheering along with the coarsest commentary on Hopkins’ death, but Bush fails to fully capture both sides of the debate.
The pro-Hopkins voices tend to be less well drawn, their arguments slight or petty. The one character who does take Hopkins side—a charity worker called Kayleigh who is initially reluctant to defend her—ends up transforming into a dime-store version of her new idol.
While the characters wrestle with months of debate about Hopkins—“Zombie Katie… just won’t die”—a second narrative develops; twelve seasonal migrant workers have died in a fire at a trailer park.
We see their emotional memorial service and meet the grieving fiancée of one of the victims; there is no such glimpse into the mourning Hopkins clan which includes three young children.
While the musical is certainly not arguing that anyone deserves to lose their life, it does toy with the idea that Hopkins deserved it more than most.
The Assassination of Katie Hopkins is at Theatr Clwyd, Mold, until May 12. Book here.